I didn't read much this year.
Maybe it was discovering the HBO series The Wire and watching seasons 1 to 3 in the month of November, maybe it was the Sunday nights spent watching the Walking Dead, or maybe I'm just getting lazier.
I read 45 books this year (43 actually, I haven't finished Miller's City of the Century and I only read a big chunk of Orwell's Collected Essays - the thing is about the size of a cinder block, I'll be reading it for years), which is down from my past few years of 50+ and nearly 20 fewer than my wife read.
Here's the list of what I read, as usual divided into the great, the glad I read them and the rest of 'em (sorted alphabetically, or at least attempted alphabetically).
Essays, George Orwell
The Fourth Part of the World, Toby Lester
The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
The Wealth and Poverty of Regions: Why Cities Matter, Mario Polese
Beautifully illustrated by the author, this is an engaging look at what makes a community. And while the emphasis is certainly on the built form and the designed space - it's just as interested in discussing how communities are formed and evolve. It's a stunningly well made book too, beautiful stock and end papers.
Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster
I was a big fan of James Wood's "How Fiction Works"and this book (a lecture delivered by Forster actually) is very much in the same vein.
From clay tablets to coinage to advanced derivatives a very crisply, plainly written book about money and monetary systems. Ferguson is tremendously skillful at making complicated and financial systems easy for laypeople to understand.
The Big Picture: Who Killed Hollywood and Other Essays, William Goldman
The Big Short, Michael Lewis
If I've said it once, I've said it 100 times - Michael Lewis could re-write the phonebook and I'd read it. In the Big Short, Lewis looks at the few folks who saw the coming housing crisis in the states and made billions by shorting asset-backed sub-prime derivatives. Another solid book by one of the best writers going.
The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg, Nicholas Dawidoff
City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, Donald L. Miller
I was hoping for more insight into the planning and re-building of Chicago, but this book makes up for that lack with a density of information about all of the business, financial and cultural advances that the city of Chicago and its citizens were responsible for. I'm a big fan of Chicago and it was pretty eye opening to realize how much that city is responsible for considering it's young age.
One of the few music books I've read that strikes the perfect balance between explaining and illuminating the music and telling the narrative of a life. Ratliff does a great job on both counts and I found myself re-listening to old Coltrane tunes with fresh ears and a fresh appreciation for what Coltrane accomplished during his short life.
The Final Four of Everything, Mark Reiter
Took this up to the family cottage this year and it was one of those books that made the rounds. Each page offers a standard "March Madness" style 64 entry bracket on a different topic. Each topic is compiled and argued by a subject matter expert who whittles down the competition until a champion is named. The categories are a lot of fun and include best: James Bond; Celebrity Mugshots; Sitcom Moms; Film Deaths; Cheese; Bald Guys; Baseball Myths; Women's Underwear; etc. Sure to spark some interesting debates...
Friday Night Lights, H. G. Bissinger
Green Metropolis, David Owen
How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, Franklin Foer
How We Decide Jonah Lehrer
This book was alright, started off with a bang and tailed off from there. I have the feeling I've simply read too many books about the decision making process and am tired of re-reading the same studies discussed in book after book. Perhaps with fresh eyes, this would have been a better read.
Manhood for Amateurs, Michael Chabon
I was surprised at how much I liked some of these essays. Not a huge fan of Chabon's fiction, but these small essays on fatherhood, children and families formed a nice collection.
Mercator: The Man Who Mapped the Planet, Nicholas Crane
Read this after reading the Toby Lester book. It's a pretty cool read for people into maps, geography and life in the 1500s, but it's a bit uneven and could use better graphics to illustrate Mercator's more important works.
This was a really solid autobiography by one extremely smart dude.
Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory, Ben Macintyre
Paris Underground: The Maps, Stations, and Design of the Metro, Mark Ovenden
I was working on a project this year where programmers developed smart phones to assist travelers with impairments navigate European subway systems. Paris was the first system on board. I picked this up as a bit of a lark and found myself submersed in great stories of how the subways were built, planned, designed, and the changes they've undergone in the 100+ years since. The cartography collected in this book is gorgeous.
Political Fictions, Joan Didion
One of the best essayists out there.
The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe
Rural Studio, Samuel Mockbee
I had first come across the work of this school in Design Like You Give a Damn. This collection provides a much richer, more substantial and rewarding look at this unique architecture/ community development program
Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, Jane Leavy
The Studs Terkel Interviews: Film and Theater, Studs Terkel
Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Robin Kelley
Too Loud a Solitude, Bohumil Hrabal
A fascinating Czech novella. While I enjoyed it, I don't think I drank in all the allegory/symbolism packed into these pages.
The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, Dan Ariely
Not as good as his first, but a fun read with some more cool sociological/economical/psychological test studies. Lacks the overall thematic arc that made Predictably Irrational such a great read.
Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, Donald Kladstrup
Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us - and How to Know When Not to Trust Them, David H. Freedman
Not for Me
The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar
Early on in this book the author digresses into a fascinating anecdote about arranged marriages and the intriguing tidbit that they result in the same amount of happiness as those of love or romantic marriages. It touched on religion, choice, freedom and happiness and then it was left behind, unexplored. The rest of the book re-hashes the standard decision making theories found in every single book on the topic. I have the feeling there's a very good - if not great - book in here, it's a shame the author never found it
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip & Dan Heath
I don't remember much, if anything, about this book. Not a good sign considering one element was the "Velcro theory of memory management" or some such thing...
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Richard H. Thaler
I'm a sucker for books on behavioural economics and decision making theory. I've actually sought out, read and enjoyed papers and speeches by Thaler. This book should be tailor made for me, but for one problem: it was immensely boring. In trying to make their theories easy to understand, Thaler and Sunstein manage to squeeze every last bit of life out of their writing.
Playing for Pizza, John Grisham
The men on my wife's side of the family all read this book and urged me to. I wish they hadn’t.
Cigar Box Banjo: Notes on Music and Life, Paul Quarrington
Man, do I feel like a schmuck for panning this one. Poor Paul Quarrington gets diagnosed with inoperable, terminal cancer and writes a book about his final days interwoven with anecdotes about his love of music. I don't know if the book was rushed or if the editor(s) felt it was improper to, um, edit but this was a big disjointed mess of a book. Like I said, I'm a schmuck.
The Secret Lives of Buildings: From the Ruins of the Parthenon to the Vegas Strip in Thirteen Stories, Edward Hollis
An interesting premise, 13 original essays about a range of western architectural wonders. Unfortunately, the pieces are dreadfully overwritten. If you dig architecture and really purple meandering prose, this book is for you.
Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City, Anthony Flint
Unfortunately Jacobs didn't transform the American City, which is characterized by many of the things she fought in New York City. She also didn't "take on" Robert Caro, nor was it just Jane Jacobs fight. I guess I thought we were past the "Great Man Theory" but the author certainly doesn't think so...